Chrissie Hynde and the problem with caring what celebrities think

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
August 31, 2015 /

Click here to view original /

In Ricki and the Flash, the ageing rock star wannabe of the title (Meryl Streep) has an American flag tattooed on her back. She’d voted for Bush. She supports the troops, she hates Obama, yadda yadda, she’s vaguely homophobic.

Ricki’s politics are barely a minor point in film, but work as a timely reminder that often rock stars are a bundle of contradictions. We often assume because they earn their dollar in the creative industries that they’ll have counterculture views. That they’ll be progressive and subversive and left-leaning in the ways that we associate with living-on-the-scent-of-an-oily-rag artists.

Sometimes, however, they’ll jar us by being all gunned-up and a card-carrying Republican.

Chrissie Hynde.

Another ageing rock star although certainly no wannabe.

Night in My Veins is one of my all-time favourite songs. I’m not going to claim it’s necessarily feminist – a) I don’t choose my music based on politics; and b) I’m not going to waste my 700 words addressing the “which feminism” question – but the song is sexy and powerful and provocative.

Hynde, truth be told, is at the helm of much of the music on high rotation through my ear buds.

So how does it feel when a favourite musician publicly claims that women can bring about their own rapes? That she, apparently, brought about her own gang-assault? How does it feel to hear her use the word “prostitute” as a term of disparagement?

Has she let me down? Has she let the sisterhood down?

To channel my inner schoolmarm, in fact, she’s only let herself down.

Sure, Hynde has spoken words that conflict markedly with my own views. And she’s defamed sex workers, insulted rape victims and gifted get-out-of-jail-free cards to scumbag perps. But her contribution to my life is restricted to her music. I didn’t expect better of her, I didn’t expect anything of her. That there’s such an outcry is attributable to the fact that there’s simply too much interest in the thoughts/actions/(mis)deeds/dining habits of celebrities.

Hynde is not an idol, her function in my life isn’t to teach me about society or about politics. She isn’t my moral beacon. Sure, she’s perhaps given voice to my love/sex/angst/anomie at times, but holding her – holding any celebrity – up to role model status is ridiculous. They’re ordinary people with the foibles, ill-informed views and contradictions akin to the rest of humanity. Expecting more is laughable.

It’s always worthwhile putting a spotlight on sloppy journalism and the kind I’m thinking about today centres on those “celebrities react” articles. Letting us know, say, what Taylor Swift thinks about the American pastime of firing bullets into random strangers.

Pushing aside the relevant questions about why a celebrity reaction is worth repeating in news media, rather, I’m interested in the consequences of such reporting. Instead of just letting celebrities thrive in their fields of expertise, alas, social media and a lazy press have created a culture where we’re supposed to care what people who can sing/act/kick think about politics, gun control, sexual violence.

There’s an argument to be made that it’d be good for someone like Hynde to use her platform for good, not evil. Sure. But from Hynde’s – albeit warped – perspective, she is. She’s speaking a truth as she sees it. That we’re listening and electing to get riled up is more our problem than hers.

© Lauren Rosewarne